One of the biggest stories in travel over the last 20 years has been the growth of accommodation website, Booking.com. It was founded by a computer scientist, Geert-Jan Bruinsma in 1996 and is based in Amsterdam. Priceline bought Booking.com in 2005 for $133 million and Priceline combined it with a previous 2004 purchase, the $161 million dollar ActiveHotels.com of the UK . The combo, under Booking.com's name, turned out to be Priceline's most lucrative company and a true bargain. It operates as an independent unit of Priceline, with its own executives. Today, Booking.com is Europe's and Australia's biggest online hotel-reservation website and it represents a huge share of Priceline's revenue and growth. The size of Booking.com is incredible. It's available in more than 40 languages and offers over 593,062 properties.
A major factor in Booking.com growth has been its website . The website keeps evolving and places a big emphasis on the user experience and customer reviews.
The Principal Designer at Booking.com is Stuart Frisby. He comes from Nuneaton ,England and studied Japanese and International Business at John Moores University in Liverpool and Seinan Gaiuin University in Fukuoka. He and his team have just launched the app, Booking Now. Stuart was kind enough to answer our questions about the app and Booking.com in general. His favorite travel location is Kawaguchiko, one of the five lakes around Mount Fuji.
Interview with Stuart Frisby:
TravelGumbo: Your Booking Now app is out for booking rooms quickly at the last minute with two clicks. Do you have anything you'd like to add about the design? When is the Android version coming out?
Stuart Frisby: Design-wise we set out with some goals in terms of the user experience which we believe distinguish the app from the rest of the competitive landscape. Hotel Booking has followed a pattern on the web & subsequently on mobile which was established by booking.com over the past fifteen years. That pattern consists of searching explicitly for a destination, date and occupancy combination, working through a list of options, and drilling down to the property you want.
With Booking Now we recognised that mobile platforms help us establish the context of the user, and in the last minute scenario in particular we can remove a lot of that work by creating an interface which starts with already providing what we think is the very best option.
With this in mind, we created something which is an evolution from a series of independent parts of the process, into something which is altogether more fluid, and where the customer and their context really drive the way the application behaves.
We’ll stick to this model when we rollout globally on iOS and Android in the coming weeks.
TravelGumbo: With mobile bookings on the increase, how is that affecting the main booking.com site and travel booking in general? Does the website have design changes coming?
Stuart Frisby: Mobile is for sure having a big impact across our business and the industry in general. With around half of our last minute bookings coming via mobile, it makes sense that this is the first place you see this reimagining of the process of Booking a room, and as consumers continue to shift from desktop to mobile, it’s likely that some of the things you see in Booking Now will find their way to the rest of our platform. Our approach as a company is to put our customers in the centre of everything we are doing. So in Product development too we’re looking very closely at what our users want – if user behaviour changes our platform will immediately change with it.
TravelGumbo: How is booking.com dealing with the rapid growth of AirBnb ? Is adding rooms in people's homes in the future design plans?
Stuart Frisby: We focus on our own strategy and that strategy is based around a fastidious focus on our customers. That’s what we are good at and how we further want to improve. Every company should pursue its own strategy and it is not our job to comment on this.
TravelGumbo: I've always been impressed with the quality of user reviews on booking.com in comparison to some accommodation user generated review sites. Besides requiring users to have stayed in the accommodations before reviewing, are there other ways you detect fake or other questionable reviews?
Stuart Frisby: One of the unique features on Booking.com is that the over 40 million fresh reviews about accommodations come from real guests who have stayed and paid at the accommodation. Reviews can only be submitted by guests who have booked on Booking.com and have stayed and paid at the venue. The invite to leave a review is typically sent out by email by Booking.com a couple of days after the guest has checked out.
The average score from an accommodation is a rolling average over a 14 month period and therefore can change every day. The reviews are unedited. Only reviews with offensive language will be removed. Hotels cannot remove reviews. Typically a hotel can only get a review score when at least 5 reviews have been left. In the event we suspect a review might be fraudulent we have a fraud team investigating the review making sure that it is authentic and if proven fraudulent the review will be removed.
All property owners have agreed by contract that they will not submit any reviews themselves or have them submitted by any of their employees. If we do suspect the accommodation posts reviews themselves and we find proof for it we will send them a warning letter and the fraudulent reviews will be removed from our website. In over 99.99% of the cases the problem did not reoccur.
Travel Gumbo: As more startups keep appearing in the industry, some of them aggregators, what kinds of partners will booking.com need to work with to stay ahead of the game?
Stuart Frisby: The key for us as industry leaders is to remain humble, and to keep working hard to make our customers happy. We have the best inventory and the best customer service, and we continue to find ways to improve all of our products - so long as we stick to that formula and remain agile and responsive to customer need, I feel pretty good about our chances of remaining the #1 choice of customers worldwide.
We thank Stuart Frisby for his answers.
* Booking.com is one of TravelGumbo's affiliates that we receive a small commission from when you access their site and make purchases through our link.